At the end of February 2017 around 50 company representatives and experts from Germany and Kenya met in Darmstadt to develop ideas on tackling diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses. The workshop was held at the Merck innovation centre and generated seven new business models. The 5th lab of tomorrow process is the second one that is held jointly with Merck.
This is now the 5th lab of tomorrow process overall that GIZ has conducted on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Participants from around the world spent three days developing business ideas to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Kenya. The challenge of the 5th lab of tomorrow innovation process, introduced by Dr Heide Richter-Airijoki, GIZ team leader in the project 'Development of the health sector', is a burning issue in Kenya's health sector. According to the World Health Organization NCDs are responsible for 27 percent of all fatalities and 50 percent of all hospital admissions in the country. Yet Kenya is not the only country affected by this problem. The United Nations have recognised the severe social and economic impacts of the global increase in NCDs, and have mainstreamed efforts to control and prevent them in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the targets of SDG 3, for instance, involves reducing mortality from NCDs by one third premature by 2030. Preventive measures will play a crucial role in achieving this target, as the emergence of NCDs is largely due to behavioural factors. In other words, the number of new infections can be controlled by changing attitudes and behaviours.
In seven interdisciplinary working groups, participants of the innovation workshop pooled their expertise and resources and – using the Design Thinking method – developed solutions that are at the same time business ideas. In addition to Merck, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer, SAP and Cerner also attended, along with start-ups and small and medium-sized companies. African businesses also took part, alongside selected experts on Kenya from foundations, UN organisations, government institutions, NGOs and GIZ. This enabled an intensive transfer of knowledge between the private, social and public sectors.
'I'm particularly excited by the idea of using innovative ideas to improve the supply of medicines, by which I mean linking new technologies with the administration of medicinal drugs', says Stefanie Pügge of the German aid organisation ‘Apothecaries without Borders’. Although the workshop was very challenging, she said, she did learn a great deal about sometimes ‘thinking outside the box’. Karina Fassbender, Head of Accelerator Africa at Merck, also had good things to say about the innovation workshop held in Darmstadt. ‘The three days were a complete success in terms of enabling international actors to work together in innovative ways. We are delighted we could stage the lab.’
One of the business ideas involves a national health database containing facts and figures on NCDs. By applying an algorithm, an app will use these data to recognise symptoms and propose treatments.
Another group set out to provide young Kenyans with information on a healthy lifestyle in a playful way. Their app includes a health quiz that is linked to a social campaign. Users play against each other in a tournament, in which they are required both to answer questions based on factual knowledge and take part in sporting activities. As the current knowledge of individual users is regularly collected, valuable data for targeted awareness-raising and prevention of NCDs will automatically be generated.
A third team intends to organise cooperation between insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. In the course of this cooperation between the public and private sectors, the group plans to streamline the path taken by medicines from production, through transport and on to distribution. The aim is to lower prices sustainably and, according to Viktoria Rabovskaja, ‘make the treatment of NCDs accessible and affordable for a broad section of the population’.
In April 2017, selected entrepreneurs wishing to take their business models further traveled to Kenya in order to optimise their ideas in cooperation with GIZ in the country setting. Once again, the lab of tomorrow process has smoothed the path to economic and development cooperation. This is also how Christian Hagemann, responsible officer at BMZ, sees it: ‘With the lab of tomorrow we offer businesses an innovative platform. This is where they can develop sustainable business models as solutions to development challenges.’